Kulturorte als Lernorte interkultureller Kompetenz (Cultural Institutions as Locations for Learning Intercultural Skills )

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Beheimatung durch Kultur. Kulturorte als Lernorte interkultureller Kompetenz, Klartext Verlag, Essen (2007)






"Our times are characterized by intercultural conflicts and misunderstandings. This means that dialogue between ethnic groups and cultures is even more important than ever in order to promote the growth of mutual understanding. But understanding is based on communication and this requires a two-way exchange of ideas and information. Art and culture can form bridges for this by arousing curiosity about the unknown and simultaneously revealing something about the nature of others."

Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft. "Status, tasks and prospects of intercultural work in cultural education". Kulturorte als Lernorte interkultureller Kompetenz. June 2006. Accessed January 4, 2017. http://www.kupoge.de/kulturorte/uebersetzungen/gb.pdf.


Research project

The goal of the research project "Cultural Institutions as Locations for Learning Intercultural Skills" was to examine the "current status, remits and prospects of intercultural work in arts education" (Kroeger et al 2007, p. 41). The reason for this choice of research topic stems from the assumption that societies require appropriate intercultural skills in settings where "very different cultural traditions and values are confronted with one another ​​in the various practical fields of society". The authors start from the assumption that, through "culture, arts and arts education" (ibid.), intercultural competence can be promoted, given that these areas enable unfamiliar topics and scenarios to be experienced and reflected upon in a productive manner (cf. ibid.). Against this backdrop, the authors advocate having "fixed environments and establishments and also cultural policies that take their role in terms of social responsibility seriously" (ibid.). In their study, the authors want to examine, via a nationwide survey, the role of art and culture in terms of integration processes in a multicultural society.

Implementation and method

The review of the current status vis-a-vis intercultural work performed in state-institutionalised cultural environments and cultural activities was carried out as follows:

Following a field research phase, the authors conducted empirical research nationwide in district education authorities of both municipalities and selected German federal states. In 2005, questionnaires were sent to 400 German towns, cities and municipalities with more than 30,000 residents. Ten key questions were used to determine the degree of conceptual and practical importance given to intercultural arts-related and educational work by municipal youth and cultural administrations. In 2006, the research was accompanied by a survey of education authorities at both district (municipality) level and federal state (or regional) level.

Intercultural work related to the arts in German municipalities: District arts authorities

The response rate for the survey was approximately 45%. Larger municipalities showed greater readiness to respond, which can be attributed to their more extensive infrastructural resources and a greater awareness for this issue.

The results show that only 20% of respondents have policies or guidelines for intercultural work related to the arts and education fields. Only selected towns and cities preside over clearly defined intercultural strategies. Again, this can be explained by the fact that large cities are generally "conceptually better equipped and more proactive in addressing the issue of migration via arts and cultural means" (ibid. p. 46) and also have a higher percentage of citizens who are migrants. In practice, intercultural work related to the arts usually occurs as a by-product of day-to-day activities (ibid. p. 48).

It is mainly large cities that incorporate intercultural issues as a central element of their arts and culture policies (ibid. p. 50). However, increased awareness of the problem does not translate into a more visible knock-on effect in policy and work areas at municipality level. The "dominant sectors" of intercultural project work generally mentioned by respondents were music, sociocultural affairs, performing arts and arts education. Institutions or organisations quoted as relevant were community colleges and libraries, cultural associations run by migrants and socio-cultural centres.

Virtually no municipality specifically allocates funding for intercultural work related to the arts, with just the big cities again proving to be the exception in this respect. From the perspective of the district arts authorities, the motivation for funding intercultural work related to the arts is linked to the goals of social integration, improving arts education and promoting cultural diversity among migrants. Intercultural objectives identified by most respondents were tolerance, language skills and knowledge of other cultures. Since objectives with a greater focus on the intrinsic value of the arts, such as developing artistic and creative skills and demonstrating individual forms of artistic expression, were mentioned by very few respondents, the authors reached the following conclusion: “The dominant concept of culture is one that demonstrates a bias towards social communication; in this context, art as a reflexive independent activity receives virtually no consideration.” (Ibid. p. 56)

Intercultural work related to the arts in German municipalities: Youth Service Offices

In the opinion of the authors, municipal establishments for children and young people tend to operate intercultural work on a greater scale than district arts authorities, due to the fact that the German Child and Youth Welfare Act [Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz] officially requires these establishments to perform cultural- and social-related educational work (ibid. p. 60) and because state-initiated children and youth work carries an inherent public duty with financial and institutional backing. Arts and culture-related work, on the other hand, is more of a voluntary undertaking.

The response rate from the 400 youth service offices who were written to was approximately 44%; here again, it was the larger municipalities who tended to offer a positive response.

In the view of the authors, the finding that only 28% of municipalities have a conceptual basis for intercultural child and youth work is disappointing. The authors nevertheless consider that, compared to the district arts authorities, the youth service offices possess a more theory-based and concept-driven approach to their work (ibid., p. 63). 

Youth service offices in larger municipalities in particular have, in recent years, accorded a relatively high level of importance to intercultural issues and affairs and the development thereof.

Walk-in establishments and day-care centres are the settings most frequently cited by youth service offices as institutions and offerings that feature intercultural projects and strategies. Youth service offices that responded generally identified cultural offerings and activities as having intercultural potential, giving particularly high ranking to offerings related to sport, games, dance and music in this regard while allotting lower ranking to activities of a more individualistic nature, such as painting.

In a direct comparison between district arts authorities and youth service offices, the authors state the following: “In the (...) (youth work) establishments, the prevailing concept of the arts is one which generally favours a play-focused and creative approach. Youth work establishments do not underline the link to the arts sector at large, or seek to embed it any institutional framework (ibid. p. 71), as is usually the case with district arts authorities.

Specific financial support for intercultural work, with a 46% rating, is more commonly available in relative terms than is the case for district arts authorities, a fact which the authors attribute to the greater pressure arising from problems inherent to youth work (ibid. p. 72).

 The youth service offices consider socio-cultural skills such as language skills and tolerance as goals that merit funding concepts: purer forms of individual creative activity in contrast were not deemed sufficient to qualify for funding.

The authors find that youth work is characterised by a collectivist bias and is aligned to social considerations: "A functional viewpoint dominates (...) that possibly runs counter to the aesthetic considerations of most district arts authorities. In this respect, administrators for youth services and arts are common allies in terms of the general discourse on migration, but differ fundamentally in terms of the motivations underlying their work,"(ibid p. 76).

Intercultural work related to the arts in selected German municipalities: District education authorities

In 2006, the study’s focus of interest was widened to general-education schools in their role as central and mandatory environments providing (arts) education. The survey was carried out among district education authorities and federal state-level education authorities in five selected German federal states and in the three German city states.

The letter sent to 25 district governments produced a comparably high response rate of over 70%. All respondents indicated that public awareness of intercultural projects in the educational system had increased over recent years (ibid. p. 79).

According to the authors, “creative and artistic subjects (...) are unfortunately still only accorded secondary importance when it comes to dialogue between cultures in Germany's schools"(ibid. p. 80), with generally the visual arts and arts education (both 50%) rating highest and literature, with 0%, the lowest. In connection to this, the authors highlight the importance of federal state initiatives such as "Kultur und Schule [Arts and School Education] in North Rhine-Westphalia.

In terms of the overriding goals of intercultural offerings in schools, the highest ranking was generally given to social integration, support of learning success and improvement of arts education. Specific intercultural objectives, such as promoting cultural diversity, ranked lower (ibid. p. 81.).

In terms of developing more sought-after skills within the learning process, respondents mentioned the following: language skills, development of tolerance, ability to cooperate, ego-strength and self-confidence, getting to know other (foreign) cultures and perception of one’s self-image and the image perceived by others. Development of artistic expression assumed one of the lowest ranking positions.

With regard to cooperation with bodies from outside the formal educational domain who are responsible for work with children and young people, respondents indicated youth service offices and providers of youth welfare, and not district arts authorities, as educational partners. (ibid. p. 85)

Overall, the authors deem the response from parties within the education system on the issue of ethnic diversity as insufficient; they see significant pent-up demand and remain sceptical about the role of arts education in terms of intercultural education in the context of school education (ibid. p. 86).


Despite the authors’ sense of pessimism as a result of the research project findings on embedding intercultural arts-related work in municipal and educational policy-making (ibid. p. 87), the authors do state their assumption that intercultural arts-related work is indeed being carried out in many cases without this being recognized as such at a cultural or conceptual level. The authors assume that, especially in the area of youth service work, work related to the arts is in fact practised without being correspondingly documented. The authors express their hope that the pioneering example set by large cities with their clearly defined intercultural approach is one that will eventually be followed by smaller urban areas. In light of the relatively insignificant role played by cultural policy in intercultural education, the authors stress the need for all parties and representatives active in the cultural domain to increase their commitment in terms of social issues.

An English summary of the research project is available at http://www.kupoge.de/kulturorte/uebersetzungen/gb.pdf